In one of the most blissful, sweet, candy-coloured revivals of the seemingly lost genre of the 1950s romantic comedy-musical that I have seen in a long time comes Populaire, the epitome of French film for Americans if I’ve ever seen it. From the delightful piano music to the red and blue tinted love scene, its distinct style plays like the countless recreations of French cinema seen in American films (there’s literally a scene where two of the main characters slap each other then kiss, it reminded me of the cafe bit in Funny Face).
There’s all the subtle sexism of the films it draws inspiration from, whether it’s being a My Fair Lady or Funny Face-esque transformation and romance, or almost taking the dive into a full-blown musical with gorgeously choreographed, nail-biting competition scenes that make speed typing look appealing in the 21st century. At the same time, though, the fact it’s so delightful makes it all too easy to forget this. I giggled from the first scene, and I’m pretty sure that now I won’t stop until the end of time. There’s just something about those films from the mid-20th century that directors rarely try, let alone knock out of the park, or audiences even respond to anymore, be it the sparkling optimism, the charm, or skilful avoidance of becoming saccharine that just leave an audience completely whisked away on the whimsical wave of a shamelessly upbeat thrill ride. For the first time since a film like Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Populaire nails all the stylistic and tonal requirements of such a film. Deborah Francois is purely dazzling, harking back to the famous leading ladies of the bygone era, instantly making you fall in love with her. The same can be said about Romain Duris, Francois’s love interest, who turns his characters initially gruff and dismissive nature into something charming and forgivable. The two excellent leads are backed up by a lovely cast of supporting players, including the ever-reliable Berenice Bejo in a small, but memorable role.
Populaire is a difficult film to look at objectively. There is little that is new, it’s incredibly predictable, with nearly not a single narrative beat that I haven’t seen before, but it has an overflowing amount of bubbling chemistry and charm to match the intoxicatingly bright settings and costumes. You’ll forget that you’re watching a film from the 21st century for two hours.
Populaire played at the Alliance Francaise Film Festival 2014.
M (sex scene and brief nudity), 111 mins.